One of the most beautiful aspects of gender is how elusive it is to express it in language. It’s not black and white, linear, myopic, or etched in stone —rather it’s colorful, non-linear, pluralistic and fluid with the possibility of constantly evolving. When I came across a recently published homegrown photography series titled Negotiating the Closet, I was quite spellbound.
With the modernization of thought, the gender discourse has become more relevant than ever and we are seeing multifaceted gender representations in art. However, to put this particular photography series simply under the purview of queer visibility would do an injustice. What fascinates me the most about this series is how such a permanent medium like photography has been used to eloquently and sensitively capture transience.
The art of capturing transcience is not just visible in the photographs but in the title itself. “Negotiating” — a word in the present continuous, implies a continuing action that the viewers are able to partake in, along with the subjects. Each subject is poised differently and their relationship with the closet is at different stages of the continuum. It perfectly echoes interpersonal gender exploration or struggle, which is never completely the same for any individual.
While some may have been completely out of the closet, some may be in the process of coming out of the closet or some may take years before they are ready to come out, and in no scenario does not make anyone more or less queer. It is a process and that’s essentially what the photo series is embodying. The title is also a clever allusion to the more heteronormative iteration of the word ‘closet’ and how fashion choices dictate one’s gender performance.
Upon close examination, one will notice how the backgrounds in the photo series are cluttered with several objects, but that is intentional. The idea was to step away from a clean, crisp frame and bombard it with objects, that serve as metaphors. The box is the centerpiece in almost all the photographs and in all of them, it is open. The box serves as the ideal metaphor for the gender binary, which when opened unlocks an array of gender possibilities, much like Pandora’s box with its multiple outcomes.
However, the subjects in relation to the boxes are aligned differently, reiterating the different stages of one’s individual gender exploration. Red, the burning color of desire, is well woven throughout each frame. At the core of the gender struggle is love — only when we are accepted for who we are, can we shower love to the other in its most compassionate form. The white bodice seamlessly fits into the color palette, while simultaneously challenging the regime of gendered fashion. It is works of art such as these that continue to pervade beyond mere representation and thought-provokingly explore the intricacies of gender identity.
Special thanks to Archan Mukherjee, the photographer of the series, for providing his insights. You can check out his recently published work, Myth, Mystery & Men, a photobook in the format of fine art nudes, that aims to explore the interaction between the construction and deconstruction of masculinity.